'Shut up whining, you spoilt bitch!' Burt growled and slapped Alice's face. With the force of the blow her head of long blonde hair jerked back, momentarily obscuring Zeke's view through the rickety pickup's windshield. A red weal appeared as she choked on her sobbing.
'Cool it, Burt' Zeke shoved her back onto the hot cowling that vibrated between them. 'This storm's bad enough without you making it worse.'
Burt squinted at the virtually impenetrable Arizonan sandstorm. Wind rattled the truck's loose and rusted bodywork; air screamed in gaps and crevices; sage-brush scored the windshield. 'Zeke - we gotta find shelter soon...'
Unexpectedly, as though an apparition, an adobe building loomed up out of the swirling dust clouds. 'There! Pull in!'
The engine cut out in front of the shack. Wincing against the savage, pummeling sand, they bundled Alice out of the cab and pushed her towards the door.
The choking sand tore at them, cutting faces and lips. Tumbleweed rustled past, cart-wheeling. An eerie wind-howl pounded in their ears, whistling round the building's smoothed corners.
'Dammit!' The thick wooden door was locked, the windows boarded up. Covering his mouth with a spotted bandanna, Zeke hammered his hairy fist on the paneling.
'Anybody there?' But the wind snatched his words away.
Dressed only in a flimsy blouse and mini-skirt, Alice's topmost skin had already been flayed off in places, leaving her red-raw, stinging unbearably. She cringed in the shallow doorway, partly shielded by Burt's quarterback bulk.
Stubble chin digging into her neck, Burt rubbed suggestively against her. She was nearing hysteria when, without warning, the door's lock clicked open and she almost fell inside. Burt steadied her, his strong hands taking swift advantage. It was as though his stubby fingers had not only hurtfully squeezed her breasts but had lanced deep inside her body, churning her stomach. He had repeatedly tried pawing her since the kidnapping two days ago. If it hadn't been for Zeke...
'Can I help?' A frail-looking old woman, graying and wrinkled, held the door open a mere crack.
Zeke instantly thrust his revolver into Ethel Becker's parchment face. 'You've got guests, Ma!' he snarled above the wind's howl.
As he thrust the door wide Ethel Becker released a plaintive shriek and stumbled backwards, aging eyes alarmed and watery. Burt followed them, roughly dragging Alice in a viselike grip.
The door slammed shut. Wisps of sand and dust scattered and swirled, fell to the floorboards. The sudden contrast with the outside was haunting: so quiet, the storm a dim memory.
A welcoming black metal stove stood in the far corner, its rusted funnel stretching through the mildewed rafters. Coffee and stew warmed on the hotplate; the smells permeated the place. Furniture was scarce: a tallboy, bed and table, two chairs, a rug and stove.
Zeke helped himself to some coffee; the warm strong black liquid drooled down his dimpled chin. 'That's better! Jeeze, that sand gets everywhere!'
At this, Burt laughed obscenely, hands tightening on Alice's arm.
'What kind of a place is this?' Zeke queried, eyes wandering.
Having regains some of her former composure, Ethel pointed to the windows' iron bars, shuttered outside. 'Used to be a jailhouse when the West was Old,' she remarked. The only door was sturdy, Zeke's bruised shoulder testified to that.
Just then, Burt set eyes on the rusted iron bedstead on the opposite side of the room, its rugs and blankets patchy and unkempt. He licked his parched lips, leered. Alice didn't like the hardening sensation against her buttock, or his rancid breath. But his grip was unshakable.
At that moment Ethel stepped forward, took Alice's hand. 'Here, girl, I'll treat those nasty cuts.' And she boldly led Alice to the tallboy, away from the astonished Burt. 'You people lost or something?' she asked, breaking out a small first-aid tin.
Alice moved back a pace, gripping the crochet shawl that covered the old woman's narrow shoulders. 'They - they kidnapped me!' she cried, her whole body trembling.
All pain was forgotten in her renewed fear. What could she hope to achieve by telling this old woman? Her heart pounded as Burt purposefully strode across the suddenly hushed room, the floorboards occasionally creaking. Unconcernedly, Zeke continued sipping his coffee by the stove.
Now, Burt towered over the two women. Mercilessly, he pushed Alice to one side, against the rough-hewn wooden table. Gasping in shock, she stumbled and fell and some of the crockery smashed to smithereens on the bare boards.
Burt was no respecter of age, either. A backhanded slap sent Ethel crumpling onto the soft bed, its springs squeaking. 'We're out to fleece her rich ol' man, y'see, Ma? So, mind your own business, do as you're told, an' we'll let you be.' His cold emotionless blue-gray eyes glared meaningfully. 'Okay?'
Wiping the blood smear from the corner of her mouth, the old woman nodded. With an effort she raised herself.
'Now, how about some grub, eh?' Zeke said as if nothing had happened. Rubbing his belly which overlapped the belt of his filthy jeans, he added, 'Smells like some damn' fine stew's on the hotplate.' He then lowered himself at the table, expectant.
By now Burt had hauled Alice to her feet. Apart from the flayed skin and bruising, she was chalk-white. 'You okay? Don't want the merchandise broke, do we?'
Abruptly, before she could get her breath or reply, he swung her round and twisted an arm painfully up her back. She let out a scream, to no avail. He wrenched even harder until she stopped struggling, drained of any responses at all as his lips lowered, slobbering hungrily over her throat and chest, bristles aggravating her torn skin. His touch was enough to send her insane; it was like some grotesque nightmare - but for the waves of pain, which increased, gyrating her stomach, tearing her insides apart. She felt faint, sensed the bile rising...
'That's enough!' Zeke yelled, slamming the rattling coffee-pot on the table, its contents slopping over. 'I want her alive and in one piece - leastways till they pay up. Now, let's eat!'
Scowling darkly, Burt released her with some reluctance, his glare freezing her blood. He joined Zeke at the table. 'Sure - plenty of time...' he said, wiping his fleshy mouth with the back of his hand.
Fingers distractedly fumbling with her torn blouse, Alice sank onto the decrepit bed. Wordlessly, Ethel had watched the whole incident. Now she offered a quick reassuring smile and hobbled over to the stove.
Scooping thick steaming stew into two large pewter bowls, Ethel carefully carried them on a tray to the two seated kidnappers. Then she tipped the tray into Burt's lap.
Jerking upright, almost screeching, he swore and flung his chair back and almost overturned the table. The stew was scalding hot. Tears welled in his screwed-up eyes. He frantically lowered his soaked, steaming trousers, baring skinny hairy white legs that were already covered in red blemishes.
Paralyzed with dread, Alice sat on the bed. The old woman couldn't win.
Zeke had jumped up, but Ethel was ready for him as well. She swiveled round, spraying the spilt stew from the tray directly into his eyes. As though flung with an electric shock he jack-knifed backwards, a rabid scream on grimacing lips.
Dropping the tray, Ethel hurried over and grabbed Alice's arm and led her dazedly to the door. 'Use the truck - there's a phone a mile up the road!' she barked, indicating the general direction to follow.
'Wh - what about you?' Alice stammered.
'I'll be all right. Now go!'
Obediently, without pausing to argue, Alice slid out into the savage blasting sand. The appalling force of the storm nearly swept her feet from under, snatching the breath from her. Faintly she heard the door crash shut, the lock click. Bracing herself in the doorway, reluctant to bare herself once more to the storm's full fury, she saw the large metal key scrape under the door, between her feet. The old woman had locked herself in with them.
She could not hold back any longer now and stumbled towards the gray shape of the truck. The pain earlier on paled to nothing compared with the agony now of the whiplash of sand-spicules. Her cuts and grazes inflamed anew, joined by fresh lacerations.
Shaking violently, she fell inside the truck's cab and struggled frantically to close the door. As the metal clanged into place the hellish noise outside diminished a little, enough for her brain to start thinking again.
The keys were in the ignition - fortunately, they'd been in too much of a hurry finding shelter to remember them.
The old engine stuttered then fired. She must get help, save the old woman.
As the rickety truck trundled onto the turnpike - marked by askew telegraph poles - she heard two loud reports, unusually clear in the noise of the storm.
Sunset slashed the barren landscape with reddish hues. The turnpike stretched as far as teh eye could see. Not a wisp of wind; the sandstorm had abated two hours ago, leaving the desert with a new and unsettling silence.
Parked slantwise outside the adobe shack was a State Police station-wagon. The patrolman leaned inside the open window, unlatched his radio-transceiver. 'Patrolman Kent reporting.' Static, crackle. 'Dammit!'
Wrapped in an Aztec-style blanket, Alice stared vacantly from the shack's doorway. Slowly, her face quite blank, she closed the bullet-riddled door. 'The woman - where -?'
A stomach lurching sensation writhed within her. At the moment that she had entered the shack, against the orders of Patrolman Kent, she had felt strangely giddy, her chest constricted, abdominal muscles tightening unbearably. And then she had seen Zeke and Burt...
Instead of feeling revulsion as the patrolman had feared, her thoughts were sanguine, objective. Impassively, she had watched the pair of them, dangling upside down from the rafters. They had been stripped naked - and Burt had been stripped of more than clothes. The coagulated blood was black between his thighs. Deeply incised crosses glistened darkly upon their foreheads. Otherwise, the place was empty, laden with dust and cobwebs and skittering spiders. The vile, sulfurous smell pervaded the place, entered her nostrils, made them twitch involuntarily. Dimly, as though from a dream, she half-remembered alien voices, foreign words, like incantations, as thought the sounds came from the very walls of this adobe shack.
The patrolman threw down his microphone. 'Must be a storm interfering.' He shook his head in bewilderment. 'Lady, are you sure you got your facts right? This place has been deserted fifteen years now, didn't you know?'
Alice closed her eyes, briefly, nodded slowly. A swirling sensuousness warmed her body. 'Yes, patrolman, I know...' Tingling pleasurably, she walked to the car. The cop opened the door for her and squinted at the incipient dusk. She didn't miss the quick glance he gave as her skirt rode high up her thighs. The upholstery was warm, soft. 'Yes, now I know,' she repeated.
Patrolman Kent started. 'What - what'd you say, lady?'
She smiled. 'I know this place was closed down when Ma Becker was mysteriously murdered fifteen years ago.'
'How'd you - wait a minute! - you said before - '
Alice sidled further inside the car. 'Come in where it's comfortable,' she whispered. 'And let's you and me forget all about this dreadful place...'
He hesitated, but only for a moment. 'Just as you like, honey,' the cop said, unbuckling his gunbelt.
And as she possessed him, the first of her new disciples, she smiled archly. Ma Becker's will gained increased strength from the coupling, enabling her to crush the last vestiges of decency within the mind of Alice. Domination was complete. Fifteen years was a long enough to wait for rejuvenation, she thought, and the body of Alice would serve her very well.
Previously 1975 Published in NEW WITCHCRAFT, 1975 under the byline Platen Syder
Copyright Nik Morton, 2014
My collection of crime tales, Spanish Eye, published by Crooked Cat, features 22 cases from Leon Cazador, private eye.
He is also featured in the story ‘Processionary Penitents’ in the Crooked Cat Collection, Crooked Cats’ Tales.
Spanish Eye, released by Crooked Cat Publishing is available as a paperback for £4.99 ($6.99) and much less for the e-book versions – UK or COM.